Our Seminarian, Abby Johnson blessed us with her preaching on Sunday, June 14th. The link for her sermon is HERE . Abby has been home for several weeks, finishing her final academic term of seminary. She begins her internship with St. Paul Lutheran in Arlington, in late August. She and her mother, Martha Johnson, have been working on our communal on-line devotions: Word-in-Season-Live, which you can find our Facebook and Instagram pages.
The events of the last two weeks have convulsed our country, from the murder of George Floyd by police, to the ongoing protests in large and small cities and towns, villages and neighborhoods in every 50 states. I have lived through many crises in our nation, and I came of age in the civil rights era. I have never seen anything like this, the diversity, the breadth of participation, the clarity of purpose. Furthermore, the protests, in the midst of a pandemic, against white supremacy, racism, and police brutality have spread around the globe. We are seeing the birth a powerful movement for justice emerge in our nation, for black people, indigenous people and people of color. In an effort to further our work to confront racism, our Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton speaks to these times in her Trinity Sunday sermon, which she prepared especially for use in our virtual capacity during the Covid pandemic. You can hear it here: Bishop Eaton’s Sermon. I hope you will listen to it, and mark, read, and inwardly digest it. She speaks the good news of the Gospel in a hard time.
The transcript of the Sermon is found here: Transcript of Sermon.
The photograph is offered by seminarian Abby Johnson, from a protest she attended.
These reflections on Jesus’ Seven Last Word were published in the bulletin for Good Friday. We thank all the writers from our congregation who shared them: First Word: Paul Wasserman; Second Word: The Rev. Printice Roberts-Toler; Third Word: Christopher Truitt; Fourth Word: Crystal Rowe; Fifth Word: Robin Carlo; Sixth Word: Mary Meader; Seventh Word: The Rev. Val Roberts-Toler. We also thank the readers who assisted in reading these for our Good Friday Service: Abby Johnson, Don Johnson and Martha Johnson. You may view the Good Friday service on our Facebook page.
THE FIRST WORD Luke 23:34
When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.
The first reflection is a poem by Paul Wasserman
Forgive them Lord for they know not what they do
How were they to know
They had never seen a God before
He did not descend from Mount Olympus
They could not see the glowing halo
His words were opaque
They listened but they did not understand
He was just another Son of David
They could not feel the depth
From where His Soul emerged
It was a place unknown for thousands of years
The world could not contain this Spirit
So on this day the Heavens opened
And in that moment
A great and invisible Light
Surrounded the world
He was already growing away from us
Returning to His Father
He became the fountain
He became the fountainhead
He left without anger
He left without sadness or regret
He pleaded at the end
He understood their ignorance
He was transformed
He became Pure Spirit
And Pure Love
THE SECOND WORD Luke 23:43
One of the criminals said to him: “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.” “He replied, “Truly I tell you, this day you will be with me in paradise.”
The second reflection is written by The Rev. Printice Roberts-Toler.
“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” – Luke 23:43
Some things are hard to talk about. Jesus’ death on the cross is one of them. Words
seem too glib, too rational, and insufficiently sublime to speak of this brutal event which is a central part of our faith. However, these words from the cross are filled with hope and assurance.
Jesus directs His words to the criminal on his side, who has just confessed that he was deserving of his fate, and in an expression of faith asks, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” There was only God’s mercy and grace to be trusted here. That was all that was needed. I rely on that.
Further, Jesus gave him a promise of something wonderful, but frankly, we cannot know exactly what Paradise is like. But doesn’t the man go from utter suffering, and a life wasted, to peace and comfort and wholeness, and….all that paradise means.
Most important, it is not an isolated waiting room to get into heaven, but it is graced by Jesus’ presence. “You will be with me.” What greater comfort to not only be with the one who has eternity in His power, but is the one “Who loved us and gave himself for us.”
Some things are hard to talk about. When I talk about my own dying, my children will have none of it. When you get to my age it is something that is hard to ignore. Now in the presence of a virus that could well be lethal to someone like me, it is inescapable. I wish I could give my children more comfort. Val has suggested I write them a letter.
I want to tell them I am okay with dying. Ever since my college days when I put aside my personal goals to serve the Lord, I have counted on the assurance that someday I would be “with Him in Paradise.” I believe that promise. That’s all I need.
THE THIRD WORD John 19 26:27
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son. Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”
The third reflection is by Christopher Truitt.
We think of Him:
on the cross.
while darkness spread
across the world.
Think of her, as well,
standing at his feet
— her pain, like his,
when he called to her:
woman, see your son!
Then, deeper dread
touched the heart,
shadow of a prophecy:
When he was yet a boy
they had presented him
before the priests
and she had heard:
a sword shall pierce your soul.
Now, even priests abandoned him,
accused him of some travesty
that he was never party to…
She had watched him
play the games that children will,
fed him breakfast every day,
clothed his tender body,
made him ready for the world;
then, later followed him
along a troubled path
when he began his ministry.
Now, she was disciple
to her tortured Lord,
yet stayed his mother still,
desired to dress, with balm,
those open wounds.
O, this trial of motherhood!
this rending of the cloth
of love for God
and love for child.
Jesus looked across
the mist of death,
found her standing by the side
of his beloved friend.
Man, behold your mother
he commanded at the last
because of what she gave to him,
would give to all his church:
a love that never fails
for those who bear his life
from womb to grave.
THE FOURTH WORD Matthew 27:46
From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli lema sabachthani?”That is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The fourth reflection is by Crystal Rowe.
As I write this, we’re on the third day of cold, rainy, dreary weather. As if it’s not enough to have the world on lockdown, now I can’t even enjoy the yard and woods that surround my house. More than once over the last week have I thought these same words … “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Why does it feel like the world is caving in?
Why don’t you do something to stop it?
Why can’t you use your powers to push evil away?
Why can’t you just give us a few weeks of sunshine to help us pull through this awful, unbelievable time we’re leaving in?
As I reflect on my own situation, as I reflect on this weird time we find ourselves living right now, I’m drawn to the image of Mary at the foot of the cross. Can you imagine what it must have felt like to see your son, dying in your midst, and knowing there was absolutely nothing you could do to prevent it, or to even make it a little more palatable?
I think about those overwhelmed healthcare workers on the front lines, in overwhelmed hospitals, and the gut-wrenching decisions they are having to make. The ones who have to sit by and watch people die, knowing there’s nothing they can do to ease their pain, and the pain of those who love them.
Maybe you, like me, have had those times over the last few weeks where you’ve just felt helpless. I’ve always understood living out faith as a call to action … a call to DO something to make life easier for those who find themselves in tough places. A call to be present with those who find themselves struggling. And yet here we are, in a time where the call to action is “Don’t go do anything. Don’t be present with anyone but your immediate family. Just stay home.”
It’s no wonder that we may be feeling that God is forsaking us in this strange time. It feels like everything we’ve ever learned about how to live out our faith is being challenged right now. Like Jesus on the cross, we’re wondering why God doesn’t just reach out and DO something. Why doesn’t good prevail over evil?
Isn’t that the real struggle with Good Friday? It’s a truly painful day. A day when we see this Jesus that we have grown to know and love hanging on a cross, because of nothing other than his Goodness. A day when we get a glimpse of his own inner struggle, his own pain, his own anger that evil wins this match.
Of course, we know the end to the story – we know that Good prevails. That God prevails. We know God does reach out and act – and that moment is even more glorious than the one that we long for.
And because I know the end of the story, I can feel comforted by the fact that even Jesus wondered why he had been forsaken. I can feel comforted by his pain and uncertainty. Comforted by his willingness to die – alone – on the cross, so that he had a full and complete experience of what it means to be truly human.
On this Good Friday like no other we’ve lived before, Jesus is not simply present with us, but he is here, living it with us. Today, as we remember him dying on the cross, as we remember his crying out to God, may we feel comforted in our own cries of mourning and anger.
My God, My God, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?!
THE FIFTH WORD John 19: 28
After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said, (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.”
This reflection is by Robin Carlo
I am thirsty, says Jesus. Jesus is thirsty? Jesus, who just a few weeks ago on the third Sunday of Lent, offered living water to the woman at the well, is thirsty? What happened to “those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life,”? John 4:14 appears to promise not only an end to all thirst, but the gift of eternal life. Yet now, the purveyor of endlessly quenching water is professing thirst and is moments from death. How can this be?
Perhaps the answer is found in the previous utterance. Within the seven last words of Christ, “I am thirsty” is rightly sandwiched between “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” and “It is finished”. When Jesus cries out in thirst, he is, or at least he feels, forsaken by God. No longer connected to the source of living water and eternal life, Jesus is thirsty and dying. The vinegar he is offered cannot quench his thirst, and neither could a bottle of Gatorade or a cup of well water. As it was for the woman at the well, and as it is for each of us, only living water will satisfy our thirst. The good news is (and where there is Jesus there is always good news), the “spring of water gushing up to eternal life” is our Easter gift from God who loves us always and all ways.
THE SIXTH WORD John 19: 30
So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said “It is finished.”
This reflection is by Mary Meader.
As I sat down to write a few thoughts on this Good Friday…. a Good Friday unlike no other in memory, my thoughts and ponderings deepened. I resisted, as I always do, spending much time on this part of the Holy Week observance…. this most central symbol of our faith tradition…the persecution and crucifixion of Jesus. I so much prefer the joyous Easter rituals as emblematic of my Christian Faith believing as St. Augustine suggests that “We Christians are Easter people and Alleluia is our song. Yes, I am most comfortable there, but Good Friday I continue to resist. And yet I know that Easter and Good Friday are but two pieces of a whole. That one cannot exist without the other.
And so here we are at the cross. Once more. But I still have my old familiar Holy Week questions though now with a deepened, sobering imperative and relevance given our strange and disorienting times.: What is it all about? How will this strange time of struggle end? Why the crucifixion? How did Jesus endure his pain and struggle? How do we endure the fear and uncertainty …? our daily focus on death numbers? My questions are the same but now they have a new urgency, a deeper relevance about them. ”
We have before us is a graphic image of Jesus hanging on the cross in full humanity praying… I imagine even begging,.. for deliverance, for it all to be over. And then in a willing acceptance, a final letting go, surrendering to his sacrifice…he whispers or maybe even cries out…we don’t know…”IT IS FINISHED”. I wonder what he was thinking, and who heard him. What was he feeling?
I imagine also crowds of people watching the unfolding spectacle of executions…watching perhaps in horror, or disbelief, in confusion or weeping in grief and despair or maybe just plain curiosity, simply standing by uncomprehending and detached. The image before us is one central to our faith for it precedes Easter…In my Holy Week ponderings, I return over and over to how I might better bear witness to Jesus’ life and death in my own living and dying?
Jesus spent all his time with us teaching us about love, about how to love, about just actions and right relationships, about what to love, how to love and the way to live. Was he thinking about Love, I wonder? Was he wondering if they understood and would they carry his love with them? Was he thinking about all those souls he loved and who loved him? Perhaps as one of my beloved mentors once suggested in a Good Friday homily, he was looking out at all the people watching and saying to himself and perhaps to his Father/God…I have loved you all as much as I could and I have taught you all that I know, all that my Father has taught me and now I am done, ‘It is finished” Love one another as I have loved you.
And so, I wonder where in my Good Friday imagining do I stand? I cannot just be an Easter person because I am comfortable there or because it is easy; I must also be standing and watching on Good Friday remembering that Jesus taught us how it is that pain and struggle comes before the new is born, before we are given the Good News. How…even in the midst of pain and struggle we need to trust in the Love that endures.
Lord, Jesus Christ,
as we kneel at the foot of your cross,
help us to see and know your love for us,
so that we may place at your feet
all that we have and are.
THE SEVENTH WORD Luke 23:46
Then Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last.
This reflection is by The Rev. Val Roberts-Toler
It feels nearly impossible to face the suffering of Jesus in this moment. It is no surprise that Holy Week services are never as well attended as is the Easter service. We want to look away from such suffering.
Yet, living in this time of ‘social isolation,’ we have been stripped of our usual distractions. We have been forced to face our own mortality. On this Good Friday 2020, there is no looking away from the suffering of Jesus or our own.
Jesus was betrayed, and brutally crucified. Yet despite it all, Jesus was able to utter these words, “Into your hands I commend, my spirit.” Other translations put it this way: ”Into your hands I entrust my life,” or “Father, I put my life in your hands.”
I believe that in, the only way we can face our final days in peace, is by entrusting God with our lives every single day. As I place my life, and the lives of those I love, in God’s hands I am following the example of Jesus. He has gone before us in all things.
When I am able to do this, I am able to face and release my fears and doubts for this life and the next. Pastor Erwin Lutze wrote, “We will meet Him there, because we have met him here.”
On this Good Friday, let this last verse of the hymn, “Abide with Me,” become our prayer:
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
This week in my telephone calls, virtual conversations and emails, I’m hearing many feelings arise as we realize the extent of the pandemic and the length of time we may be practicing social distance and self-isolation. This has put us in a new place as church, but we are still church. Since I cannot visit people, or see you in worship, or in other activities, I am relying on a different kind of presence in a new way. That is the presence of prayer. It is prayer as the practice of the presence of God, as Brother Lawrence put it centuries ago. This is not a new discipline, but it is coming into high relief as a way of staying close to everyone. I may not be able to be present physically, but I am staying present to you in prayer, and relying on the presence of God with us in all that we are experiencing right now. I encourage you to reach out to each other in whatever ways you have available, whether telephone, or email, or social media. In February, before we were experiencing the pandemic, I had thought of leaving Facebook altogether. I’m so glad I didn’t, and so glad we’ve been able to have church services that way.
Thanks to the tech team at St. Paul, Howard Blazzard, Joel Maxwell and Anne Wheeler, we’ve been able to livestream worship on Facebook on Sunday, as well as Microsoft Teams–a virtual platform that allows us to listen and interact. Anne Wheeler is sending those links each week before worship and in the FYI. We are using Facebook Live for Morning Prayer on Wednesdays. Bible Study has gone to a virtual Zoom platform so that we can interact. If you want to worship with us, just sign-up on this webpage for the weekly St. Paul FYI. If you want to join bible study, you can find the link below, or write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can write or call us at anytime. Anne Wheeler is monitoring all the office mails and phone calls. You can reach me at pastor@stpaulcapeann or call. We have been reaching out every day by telephone, checking in with people. This is a new way of life for us, but we are still church. If you would like to talk with me through Zoom or Facetime or Messenger, I am happy to arrange that.
Here is the link for the Zoom Bible Study which will be held each Wednesday at noon.
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This is what is going out today in our church newsletter, St. Paul FYI. I wanted to share it here as well.
Dear Beloved Friends,
Today is the first day of Spring! I’m grateful for it. In the midst of all the overload of information, our complete change of life, our fears and worries about what the next weeks will bring, nevertheless, Spring has arrived. The first flowers are beginning to come up, daffodils and myrtle in our yard. What are you noticing in nature this week? What calls your attention? The ocean? The sky? New growth? Paying attention to the beauty of creation rests my heart and cheers my soul. We live in the midst of beauty that nourishes our spirits.
Many of us have rearranged our lives these last couple of weeks. Churches all over our Synod of been working to understanding what it means to be church in this time. We’re wondering what we need to be doing, who do we need to reach, how shall we stay connected. Here at St. Paul, we are holding on-line services and Sunday School. I want to thank Robin Carlo for all she is doing to help our Sunday School families to continue to participate in at-home spiritual formation. I want to thank Carl Johnson, Howard Blazzard, Joel Maxwell and Anne Wheeler for helping us to offer worship and prayer services in a new way. We also continue to minister to people in need in our communities as best we can.
Please do not hesitate to call or email me. Please feel free to contact the church office as well, through email or telephone. Anne W. is working from home, but can receive emails and retrieve phone messages. We are connected still, in spirit and and in love. I hope you know that I am thinking of you, praying for you, and walking with you. We are a sturdy, faithful, beloved community in Christ. In the Resurrection, Our Lord Jesus has carried us already from death to life, and he will continue to do so.
Love, Pastor Anne
As you know from yesterday’s St. Paul FYI email communication, we have been considering the best ways we can be church in this time of pandemic. We wanted to respond thoughtfully and prayerfully, in a spirit of peace, not of panic. Early this week, after the Council meeting, we formed a small preparedness team to advise the Council.
Today, we decided to postpone physical gatherings including Sunday worship for at least the next two Sundays, March 15th and March 22nd. We made this decision after much deliberation and consultation. We all feel the sadness of this decision, but we feel it is the wisest and most compassionate decision based on what we know. We plan to experiment with various forms of virtual church. This Sunday, we will broadcast a Facebook Live service at 10:00 a.m. Theodore Stoddard and I will be testing this out. We look forward to seeing what will happen.
We know that not all of you are on Facebook, so we will be trying other online platforms next week. We will keep you posted. Virtual church has been around for several years, and I’m excited that we are going to try this way of being church, even as I mourn the loss of our physical gatherings for worship.
I will be updating you on other activities during these two weeks; for now, all our regular gatherings are postponed. We ask for your patience and your help, should you have ideas as we go forward. I will work on virtual bible study and weekly devotions. Robin Carlo is working on virtual Sunday School, and expects to broadcast Facebook Live Sunday School at 9:15 a.m. this Sunday, March 15th.
The Council and I ask that you please keep in touch with each other, and with those who might be in need. We hope to create a phone tree, and you all know that you can call or write me. I will be checking in with you as much as possible by phone or email.
Lent offers us a time to embrace simplicity. This year, that simplicity is imposed upon us by events and circumstances out of our control. We can, however, choose our response. One of my friends wrote that compassion is our seat-belt in troubled times. I agree. In all that we are doing in these days of social distancing, my prayer is we remain interconnected as much as possible. May we remember those who may need assistance. May we know God’s presence in the midst of us.
Pastor Anne Deneen
As many of you already know, we chose to use a devotional supplement this Lent called Wendell Berry and the Sabbath Poetry of Lent published by the Salt Project. On the First Sunday of Lent, we held an intergenerational Beloved Community event, where we talked together about keeping the Sabbath, Lent intentions, and our needs as a community and as individuals. Children and adults were present, and you can see some of the responses on our Facebook page. It was a fruitful and provocative morning. Here’s what broke my heart: some of the children, as young as kindergartners, spoke of the anxiety and stress they feel. The thought of a day where they didn’t have to do anything was a joy to them. They said they’d like to do things like spend time with their families, walk their dog, read a book, stay in bed late. And they recognized their level of stress would decrease were they to have a day of peace. I hope that having some time to talk about Sabbath helped them think about how they might rest during this Lent.
During the morning, I presented some thoughts on Sabbath-Keeping and Lent. Below are my notes for the presentation in case you are interested.
Lent and the Sabbath
Lent is a kind of Sabbath: its disciplines are prayer, fasting, or making room for God, and works of mercy—doing good for the world. This Lent, we are thinking about Sabbath, and the ways we ourselves might keep it. I have come to learn that Sabbath is about trust, about surrender to rest, surrender to God, a releasing of the grip, all about that famous slogan people love to say: letting go and letting God. That’s the invitation of the Sabbath. That’s the invitation of Lent—as we travel along the way, to open, to release, to forgive, to widen our hearts.
On Ash Wednesday, Isaiah links Sabbath-keeping to justice, that our Sabbath rest, our capacity to deeply rest and enter that peace, that shalom, does have to do with what happens to our neighbors, our animals, our lands, all of our ways of making a living. Part of remembering Sabbath is doing just what Isaiah suggests on the days we work and play: we offer food to the hungry, we offer ourselves in service to neighbor; we “remove the yoke;” that is, we make attempts, however small they are, to undo injustice, to undo prejudice. And Sabbath helps us learn it. My rest, my peace, is linked to yours, and to people all over the world. Sabbath teaches our interdependence, our connections with God and each other.
Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Sometimes we simply need rest to do what we are called to do, to work for justice and mercy with loving, peaceful hearts.
Here is the commandment from Exodus 20: 8-11 8” Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.” (NRSV).
This description of Sabbath is inclusive. As you can see from reading it, Sabbath keeping guarantees rest for everyone, every resident and stranger, even livestock. This sacred world itself, our dear blue-green planet, would have a day of rest, if we would try to keep this commandment. Keeping the Sabbath disrupts the week, interrupts and resists oppressive work arrangements. We make room in the week to remember and honor the dignity of life and rest. Perhaps Sabbath-keeping is a way of remembering every person is made in the image of God. That memory itself is a disruption to inhumane social systems.
Sabbath-keeping is built into biblical faith. This idea that time itself is a holy gift comes out of the creation story: that moment when God blesses each day, and on the seventh day, God calls it holy. God makes time itself holy, time itself a gift. The days of existence become precious, unrepeatable holy minutes, never again to be had opportunities for heaven and earth to meet in our lives.
There’s a quality to the Sabbath that we haven’t made ourselves—this is from Abraham Heschel who has a beautiful book called The Sabbath:
The Sabbath, he writes: “is like a palace in time with a kingdom for all. It is not a date but an atmosphere. It is not a different state of consciousness, but a different climate; it is as if the appearance of all things is somehow changed. The primary awareness is one of our being within the Sabbath rather than of the Sabbath being within us. We may not know whether our understanding of the day is correct, or whether our sentiments are noble, but the air of the day surrounds us like spring which spreads over the land without our aid or notice.”
As a pastor, I do remember the Sabbath, of course, but I’m not usually resting that day. And I can write about not keeping the Sabbath from my own experience of not keeping it, for which I ask God’s forgiveness. I know from listening to their stories that rest is in short supply for most working people and their families. It seems impossible to find time for restorative quiet, or even the brief vacancy of not thinking about what has to be done next. Some people are juggling more than one job, caretaking their children, and their aging parents. If a crisis hits, like an unforeseen illness, or accident, or loss of income, or some other larger crisis, the pressure is even higher. During these weeks of concern and anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus, we can see how suddenly the orders of lives are disrupted. Our stress increases. To broaden the issue, rest is nearly impossible for those who are homeless, or hungry, refugees fleeing violence, or people suffering other forms of oppression. I can think of so many ways our simple human needs for rest, for peace, for quiet, even the need for sleep, are denied. Yet, the body needs rest, the spirit needs rest. What a different world it would be, were we able to simply put down our work for a day. All the great practitioners of mercy and justice needed rest. Jesus made a point of going apart for rest, to the mountains, or walking by the sea.
Perhaps the best part of remembering the Sabbath is the time to remember who we are, even if it’s a brief recollection: here is holy time to reorient, to recommit, to resist indignity, to honor life, to celebrate the beauty of existence, to worship the God of our understanding, to wonder, to receive the gifts of life. Sabbath is grace-filled. Lent is a time like this. Lent asks us to put down some of our preoccupations, just the Sabbath does. Peace simply arises when we stop our incessant doing. It just simply arises. Holy rest is there, within creation; it’s built into it. Tides rise and fall. Storms come and go. The day ends, night begins, the day returns. We did nothing to make that happen. We did nothing to make the sun shine, or the snow to fall. We did nothing to create the mourning dove huddled in the snowdrift or the heavy branches of the cedars, we did nothing to make the cry of a wolf at night, or the song of a whale, or the slow gaze of a turtle. We did not create ourselves. We did nothing to make this day, or any day. It is there, presented, offered, and vulnerable. Perhaps if we do nothing else this Lent, we could practice keeping the commandment to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. When you do, may you find rest and holy within that day. May you find rest and refreshment within this Lent.
Several of you have asked for the Rev. Val Roberts-Toler’s sermon of January 19th. We welcome Val to the pulpit. She and her husband The Rev. Printice Roberts-Toler are both retired United Methodist pastors, and have been attending St. Paul for the last few months. In this sermon, Val preaches about discipleship and her experience in coming to this congregation.
It is the Patriot’s fault. Every Sunday afternoon when they are playing, my husband the avid fan, is sure to be watching. I am not a fan of football. But we have a good deal. He watches and I go wandering. I go off to the beach or to a movie or to hear a speaker or to listen to live music.
That is how I ended up at Jalapeno’s, a Mexican restaurant in Gloucester that Sunday afternoon listening to Celtic music. And that is when Michael O’Leary and I got to talking. It was Michael who suggested this church and this pastor. And that is how we ended up here. We came that next Sunday and we never left!
“What are you looking for?”(vs38) Asks Jesus, of those first two disciples who had first followed John and who then began to follow Him.
I believe that what the disciples were searching for, what we were looking for and what so many people all around us are searching for are the same. Augustine captured this best when he prayed, “You have made us for yourself, Oh God, and our hearts are restless until we rest in Thee.”
Our search for a church was a search for the Beloved Community. Pastor Anne referred to that in your wonderful directory, as “a community of repentance, a community of remembrance, a community of hope, love, revelation, and justice.” We are not meant to journey after Jesus alone, we need each other.
Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth celebrates the faithfulness of that particular community. It reminds us that we are called into fellowship. “God is faithful; by Him you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (vs9) Paul says that this is a community filled with grace. It is a community that is not lacking in spiritual gifts.
And so on this Sunday before your annual meeting. I want to offer my own epistle by celebrating this community, your spiritual gifts, and the grace which we are experiencing here. And in the end, I also want to issue a challenge.
I know that you treasure this church, but sometimes it is a good thing to hear the perspective of an outsider. I want you to know how amazing this church is. And while I am brand new to this church, I do know a lot about churches having served seven of them. And so “to the church of God called St. Paul’s grace to you and peace…”
So often I can sense the connection Pastor Anne has with all of you. To a person people have shared how much you love and appreciate your pastor. The fact that Pastor Anne has been here for so many years is really such a strength.
You also love one another. And that is a beautiful thing and it is pleasing to God! (not always true)
The liturgy and the music and the sacrament are all powerful for us. I often keep my bulletin so I can read over the prayers. I find myself humming the hymns. (Wade in the Water) (Postlude PTTLTA)Each word preached or prayed, sung or spoken speaks to both of us.
You had the vision to grow this church through investing in family ministries, and you stepped out in faith and then God sent Robin along. She is brilliant. Every church needs a Robin.
You are a church that welcomes people to get involved and to share their gifts. Rejoice that Abbey’s ministry has been nurtured here. Every person whose life she will touch, and there will be many, are the fruit of your ministry.
Your concern about caring for the environment is especially important as, we live surrounded by the stunning ocean, which so needs our care. You are reaching out to the hungry and to the homeless after the manner of Jesus.
Your stewardship is fantastic. Having a fully pledged budget is rare and it says so much about how truly invested each of you are in this ministry. Too many churches are living off of endowment funds.
Just as Isaiah talks about Israel as a light for the nations. So I believe that this ministry is a light for the Northshore and beyond. You have much to celebrate as you look back at 2019 but as you look ahead to 2020 and beyond, I want to challenge all of us.
As the people of God we are called to be a people on the move. In a bad news world we simply cannot keep the Good News of the Gospel to ourselves. And especially on this weekend when we celebrate the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy we are reminded that we always need to be asking the question—who is missing? Who is missing from the table?
Neither John nor Andrew could keep the news of Jesus to themselves. They just couldn’t. I don’t think that Michael O’Leary considers himself an Andrew, who went to bring Peter to Jesus but that is who Michael was to me that afternoon. Michael spoke up—will we speak up?
With the Psalmist may we faithfully be able to say, “God has put a new song in our hearts… Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord…We have not hidden your saving help within our hearts, we have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; we have not concealed your steadfast love and faithfulness from the great congregation.”
So who is it in your circle, that you work with, live near, go to school with who is restless and filled with longing to meet the living God and longing to belong to a caring community? Who might be sitting next to YOU at Jalapeno’s?!
Having served UMC churches for decades, you might wonder why we drive right by one to come here. When recent legislation has limited the full participation of the LGBQT community, we could no longer support our denomination. It was a deal breaker for us, as it is for so many, especially for our young people.
I so appreciate your mission statement, from the church council, “we are a community that strives to follow the message of Jesus’ unconditional inclusion…we welcome all persons, all ages, all ages, genders, sexual orientations ,races and faiths..
Yet because the LGBQT community has been wounded by the church at large, I believe we have to be very intentional about advertising our welcome. As a pastor friend once said, “We have to let them know that the electricity in the fence has been turned off!” That this is a safe place. How might we do this?
I am working with Young Life. (A+R) Of the six churches we visited there very few young people. So YL goes to where the kids are. I believe that young people are literally dying to know Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life. I believe they need us, the beloved community. In my last church, about this size, there were 7 kids who were hospitalized for depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
Through YL I have met several immigrants. One young man grew up in a refugee camp in Uganda. He and I have become friends. Recently I was helping find him a used car—his first car.
It was eye opening to me to see how difficult it is to navigate the system of buying, insuring, and registering a car. This process was totally foreign to him. And again on this MLK weekend, I have to say, I was painfully aware of white privilege… I have to wonder if he would have been treated as well if I had not been present. Gloucester is filled with refugees who are far from home and who need the Lord, “who is our dwelling place for all generations” and who long for community
Will we dare to say to them, “Come and See.”
The temptation is to guard what we have to want to protect it. None of us likes change. And I confess that, already, I find myself thinking what if we grow too much, will we need two services. Will there be enough parking? Not to make you nervous, but…church growth experts tell us that once a church is 80% full—we have to start looking ahead…
Let me close first by thanking Pastor Anne for trusting me with this pulpit, and then you for this ministry and for your faithful service to God that has created this place.
And finally with the words of our next hymn. “I come with joy to meet the Lord, the love that made us, makes us one, and strangers now our friends, and strangers now are friends…Together met, together bound by all that God has done we’ll go with joy to give the world, the love that makes us one.”
The Rev. Val Roberts-Toler
Every year in January, our congregation prepares an Annual Report for our Annual Meeting. This year we are publishing a little differently. Instead of producing 80 hard copies of the Annual Report, we have decided to be more conscious of our paper use. Last year, we had so many paper copies left over, we decided it would be an irresponsible use of paper to make so many this year. Instead of paper copies, we will be sending electronic copies by email. If congregants do not have email or computers and need a paper copy, we will make a limited number of them. Please let us know by email or telephone that you need a reserved copy.
This is also the case with our Constitution. As you know, we are ratifying the updated Constitution for which we voted last year. If you need a hard copy of the updated Constitution and By-Laws, please let us know, and we will copy one for you. Otherwise, we can send you an electronic version.
This year’s Report presents an overview of our congregational life. You will be delighted when you read it to see all that has happened this year. As always, I’m left with awe and gratitude for all of you. It is a blessing and privilege to serve as your pastor.
On November 10th, Bishop Hazelwood joined us for worship, luncheon, and a book signing. He was delightful as always. He introduced the congregation to his new book Everyday Spirituality, beginning his sermon with a story of his own struggle to find spiritual practices meaningful to him. Traditional spiritual practices did not come naturally to him. He is a seeker, he says, for spirituality that has meaning for him everyday, that isn’t set apart from his daily existence or daily tasks. In the introduction, he writes:
“This is a book about everyday life. In living an everyday ordinary, seemingly routine life, we are living out a spirituality. Not the kind of spirituality that’s set apart. Not the kind where you go off to a retreat center for silence and good food and walks in nature. I’ve got nothing against that, and in fact, I enjoy those retreats myself. But I need a spirituality that is real for me on Mondays at 6 a.m. when the alarm goes off, and Thursday during dinner with my kids, and Fridays between the grocery store and the gym. This is a book that connects the stuff we do every day, every week or every so often with God.”
He has developed a card game to go with the book to use in small groups or at home or with friends or the congregation, as we did during the sermon on Sunday. Each card has a question on it inviting a conversation about our own experiences, or something important to us. For example, what are three things you’d like to be remembered for after you die, or one I liked very much: “Once, this really weird thing happened to me…Tell us about it.”
After the service, during the lunch, I heard snippets of conversation as I walked around tables or greeted people with their coffee. I could tell the Bishop had connected with the congregation, because people were talking about their own spirituality. One person talk about being in the woods in northern Minnesota, “that’s my spirituality, he said.” Another person told me about his experiences sailing as a crew member of a historic Gloucester ship, the camaraderie. Someone else talked about her photography. It was exciting for me to see the conversation from the worship service continue when we went downstairs for lunch. The thing you want most, as a pastor, or at least what I what most as a pastor is that faith be alive, a “living, busy, active, mighty thing” Luther called it. It’s always wonderful to see that in people’s lives, and I saw it on Sunday. After he finished his corn chowder and salad, Bishop Hazelwood stayed at his table with us in the middle of the room; people came to get their books signed, then sat down and began to talk with him about their experiences. He’s an inviting, personable man, and we connected with him, and with his book. Most of all, we connected with what is holy in our lives, with God in our everyday lives. All in all, a wonderful morning.